RIYADH: With more than 20,000 visitors over three days, the inaugural @Hack conference was the largest cybersecurity event in the world in 2021, according to its organizers.
“This is only the beginning for the future digital city of the world,” Michael Champion, regional executive vice president of Informa Markets, told Arab News.
“Nowhere can you launch an event which would normally take 15 to 20 years to grow to this size in any another city, and (have) done it in one edition,” he said. “That just shows how important and right the timing was of doing an event like this in Riyadh.”
Champion worked alongside Steve Wiley, general manager of cybersecurity event organizer Black Hat, to bring @Hack to life and showcase Riyadh’s potential.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Riyadh is a global tech hub of the future, and it’s certainly right now the event hub of the region,” Champion said.
Black Hat is an annual cybersecurity event that brings together hackers, trainers and government agencies from around the world to share their knowledge and experience. The largest event of its kind, in 2019 it attracted representatives from almost 120 countries.
“Coming here to @Hack has been a really good experience. Black Hat’s role has been as an adviser to the @Hack team over the last few months,” Wiley said.
Comparing the event in Riyadh to the global event, Wiley added that “people will see a lot of commonalities between the Black Hat event and @Hack.”
“We have taken the formula and applied it to the local market here. It’s been a great event,” he said.
Black Hat and @Hack shared many of the same elements and were both deeply rooted in content, Wiley said, adding that the “right educational information, training and courses offered makes sure the right people are here.”
The three-day event achieved its primary goal of attracting a wide range of visitors and participants, he said.
“I think @Hack has the right foundational elements, there is a lot of people here. The cyber community in Saudi Arabia is very robust and I think it’s great we are here for the inaugural event, and I am sure that this is an event that will carry on from the strong support we are seeing,” Wiley said.
Champion added that @Hack was also one of the most diverse cybersecurity events he had ever seen.
“At least half the people here are women or girls. If I go to a cybersecurity event in America or in London, only 10 percent will be women,” he said.
“All over the world, I think there are a lot of people who have a real misconception about Saudi women.”
While the technology field in Europe and America might be seen as closed off to women, in Saudi Arabia there were crowds of young women eager to participate in the @Hack event, not only as attendees but also as speakers, Champion said.
“I can tell you, we wouldn’t sell out an event like that, the largest debut event in history, the largest cybersecurity event in the world of 2021. That doesn’t happen because there is a good team on it, that happens because of the markets, the timing and the partnerships we have,” he said.
Riyadh had the right markets and the right support to launch multiple global events in the future, Champion added.
“When an event booms to the size @Hack and Leap have, it’s only because there is real intensity behind that market. Everybody knows it,” he said.
“For so many years, Saudi has had so much wealth concentrated in hydrocarbons, but now it seems to have released it to help transform that economy into a heavyweight in technology.”
Leap is an upcoming technology event organized by Informa Markets in cooperation with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. It is set to run from Feb. 1 to 3 at the Riyadh Front Expo Center.
“When it launches, it will be the largest debut tech event ever,” Champion said. “It will have thousands of companies participating.”
The CEOs of companies like Ericsson, VMware and Magic Leap, as well as the chief digital transformation officer of Huawei Enterprises, are among those set to attend, Champion said.
“You have unbelievable speakers on this, the real heavyweights of global technology are absolutely desperate to get on the speaker faculty. And the reason is that Saudi is a booming market,” he added.
“Saudi is the right market, it’s a very lucrative and attractive market for many companies wanting to be a part of these megaprojects because they know they are seismic.”